Breaking Away from the Past

Article excerpt

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV has escaped anxious domestic turmoil for a few days with his trip to Canada and the United States. But it will be there for his return.

The failure of a belief system, not just the collapse of an economy, lies at the heart of the Soviet society's dissatisfaction.

Western materialism of shopping malls and overstuffed supermarkets, which Gorbachev may view in the New World, is not itself the antidote for the "dialectical materialism" of Marxism-Leninism. The communist three-step of change - thesis, antithesis, synthesis - which was to lead to a classless, peaceable society, has proved to be an ideological husk. Its ideals were sustained by opportunism, terror, the weight of bureaucracy, and sacrifices by the people. The delusion that the United States was an enemy led to a tremendous waste of resources on military bluster. It cut the Soviet Union and its East-bloc neighbors off from decades of technological, communications, and managerial progress. Today's empty shelves are a metaphor for wasted years.

Soviet society will have to find its own way back into the modern Western world that did not sit waiting for the East to wake up. The West has problems of its own: In Canada, French nationalism resurges. In the United States, the savings and loan bailout estimated at a half trillion dollars is hardly an argument for unbridled market forces. In Mexico, half the population lives in poverty. Japan, accumulating too much capital, buys Van Goghs and imports National Basketball Association contests in an effort to spend off its wealth. Economic systems alone do not protect against life's absurdities. But it can be said that Western capitalism, itself evolving into a more free-form mode, offers the best chance of success for those societies within the Soviet compound that want to break away and join the competition, and for the individuals living within those societies. …


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